The stakes of writing about fatness are high. The more doctors, public health officials, and policymakers write about the threat of the “obesity epidemic,” the narrower our lives become, both literally and figuratively. The problem is, of course, that fatness and fat peoplecan’t be separated, so all writing about fatness is about us, actual fat people, whose lives are profoundly shaped by this writing. The more totalizing the rhetoric, the more fat oppression seems justified; the more powerful the argument that we do not deserve accommodation or comfort, the harder it is to imagine a world where fat people get to live in peace. It matters for fat people to be the ones writing about fatness. It’s a fight for our lives.
The fancy academic term for the study of who gets to speak authoritatively about what is “epistemology.” Epistemology is often invisible; there are some kinds of knowledge that seem “right,” “objective,” or “true,” (like science and numbers) and other kinds that seem “biased” or “subjective” (like memoirs or blog posts). Fat studies scholars and fat activists make the implicit epistemology of fat knowledge visible, challenging the idea that the best knowledge about fatness comes from “obesity experts” rather than fat people ourselves. We argue that the best knowledge about fatness — the kind most likely to help us build networks of care and kinship, explore new possibilities for fat life, and break down the enormous forces of fat oppression — comes from fat people writing for other fat people.
Nearly every piece on this list comes from a fat author who values fat people. As you read, you’ll see that valuing fat people opens up vast and thrilling possibilities for new kinds of thought, leading to rigorous, innovative scholarship.\
Fat studies is held together by a common commitment, but it’s also far-reaching and diverse. The list below cannot and should not be considered a comprehensive overview of the phenomenal scholarship in this field. Instead, I’m offering some points of salience within this broad network, meant as a warm invitation for you, reader, to throw yourself into a new and wondrous world.
The Polyphony: Conversations Across the Medial Humanities Special Takeover: Fatness and Healthcare: Fat Studies and Fat Activism Perspectives and Intervention, Fall 2021 Fat Pain is Not Your Profundity
During my six years as a student in the medical humanities, I’ve become quite familiar with the “doctor reflecting on a memorable patient encounter” genre of publication. These stories often follow a similar structure: anecdotal introduction, explanation of patient/case/doctor’s own training, dramatic or otherwise significant event, then conclusion with a broader lesson and/or resolution for the author. Stories that take this form are compelling and familiar; readers get to vicariously experience the stakes of medicine with the security of closure awaiting them at the end, while the doctor-writer gets a cohort of witnesses for their perspective on some significant part of their practice. At their best, these stories “humanize” the experience of medicine, giving a personal voice to the intimacies within a seemingly indifferent system. But I have yet to see a story of this genre that humanizes fat people.
In fact, all the doctor-writer essays about fat patients I have encountered do the opposite: they dehumanize fat people. It is incredibly painful, as someone who believes in the power of these stories to change medical practice, to read such a piece, hoping that is empathetic and insightful, only to find that it’s about how unhuman fat people (like me) are.
I have long dreamed of becoming a scientist, but now—just weeks after receiving my B.A. in biology from a prestigious university—I’ve decided to leave science behind. I am rejecting a career in science, or rather, science is rejecting me, because much like oil and water, being fat and being a scientist don’t mix.